About Book One - First Step Forward
Pro-football player Cooper Lowry is off the field and into some trouble—in the form of a very alluring, very free-spirited apple orchard owner named Whitney Reed—in the first installment in Liora Blake’s all new Grand Valley series.
After eight seasons playing pro-football, Cooper Lowry knows all the right answers.
Is he stubborn, short-tempered, and impatient? Yes. Are jersey chasers more trouble than they’re worth? Absolutely. Has he ever imagined a life beyond the game? Nope.
Cooper has built an enviable career—the result of staying focused, working hard, and keeping his head on straight—even as his body takes the brunt. So when a hard hit during a Sunday home game leaves him in a dazed heap on the field, it’s nothing more than another day at the office. The only thing that’s different about this Sunday is a chance encounter with a certain fascinating, beautiful free-spirited woman. And some sternly-worded instructions from his coach to take a little time off and give his body the TLC it craves—before he does lasting damage.
Whitney Reed is a few months away from losing the organic fruit orchard she bought three years ago in the tiny town of Hotchkiss, Colorado. At the time, she was just looking for a place to get lost. Instead, she found a home, somewhere she could finally put down roots. Now foreclosure is knocking on her door—along with a grumpy, gorgeous football player who might be just what she never knew she needed.
A charming love story for romance and sports fans alike, First Step Forward is a sexy, heartwarming romp perfect for readers of Jennifer Probst, Kristan Higgins, and Julie James.
In Whitney‟s bedroom, the space feels claustrophobic. Between my keyed-up state and the actual small dimensions of the room, a nervy energy permeates the air.
A dark, hulking, ornately carved bureau is pushed against one wall and a matched dressing table is along the opposite wall, both of them crowding the space. A queen bed sits in the middle and it‟s the only thing that doesn‟t look ten decades old; it‟s just a box spring and mattress set on a flimsy metal frame, covered by a light blue comforter—the kind of setup your parents send you off to college with, cheap and basic.
Whitney is sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, facing me, her hands clasped loosely as she toys with her fingers. The sight of her there, looking just the smallest bit nervous but still self-assured, adds to the sensation that the walls are slowly collapsing the room in on us. Closer and closer, until we inevitably land on top of each other.
I make it to the edge of the bed and stop. She draws back the comforter on one side of the bed, a wordless encouragement for me to take that spot. I take a deep breath.
“I can‟t sleep in my clothes.”“Okay.”“I won‟t be able to sleep.”“Okay.” Whitney stretches her arms out behind her and leans back, lazily. “Naked? Is
that what you‟re driving at?”When her expression becomes a playful mix of goading and hopeful, my entire body
turns toward high alert.“Not naked. Just boxers.”
She nods and continues to sit there, waiting for the show, it seems. I suddenly feel like it‟s my first day on the job as a male stripper and I‟ve just realized that I‟m going to suck at this job. My heart lurches into my throat. Even if I spend every Sunday on national television, this display, in front of this woman, is entirely nerve-wracking. If we were going at it, stripping and tugging and wrestling each other‟s clothes off, I‟d be in my comfort zone. But Whitney‟s scrutiny, the odd self-consciousness it brings on, is new to me.
She wets her lips with a dart and sweep of her tongue. Instinct takes over, and I yank the button on my jeans open, pull the zipper down, and manage to tug my socks off at the same time that I shuck the jeans. I latch on to the back of my shirt, grasping the neckline to pull it off.
Then it‟s just me, standing here in my dark gray boxer briefs, waiting for what‟s next. All I can think about is this line from a movie my high school girlfriend insisted we watch on repeat.
I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.
Fucking Hugh Grant movies. They‟re like the earworms of romantic comedies. I‟m stuck in place, half-hard, and all I can think is: I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to do something, anything, to make his cock stop hurting.
Seriously. Fuck off, Hugh Grant.
I suck in a deep inhale and hold it for a moment. Whitney lazes her head to one side as she runs her gaze over me.
“Huh.” Her brow furrows, perplexed.
That’s not the reaction I usually get when I strip down. I mean, let‟s be honest, I work out for a living. I consume 3,500 quality, clean, lean calories a day and have 8 percent body fat. I‟ve made the pages of the ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue three times. I‟m definitely not a couch potato and Whitney sounding disappointed isn‟t the response I was hoping for.
She rights her head and rises up on her knees, then starts toward me, shuffling forward until she‟s at the edge of the bed and resting back on her heels.
One of her hands starts to trace a meandering pattern across my abs, using just the pads of her fingers. My cock reacts, going thick and heavy, until I‟m fully erect so quickly it‟s embarrassing. She has to have noticed, unless she somehow happens to be hopelessly farsighted—but I‟m guessing there‟s not much luck of that. Probably looked like some lame nature documentary, those time-lapse sequences of flowers and caterpillars growing to full size in five seconds.
Her fingers dip low enough to tick the top edge of my boxers and if she isn‟t careful, she‟s going to end up sweeping across the tip of my dick, because I‟m nearly escaping the upper band. She stops tracing and looks up, then taps a spot in the center of my stomach with her index finger.
“I was convinced that when you took your shirt off, I‟d find a little blue thundercloud with raindrops,” she taps again, “right here.”
I let out a grunt. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Like Grumpy Bear. The grouchy Care Bear.” She sighs and presses her open hand to my stomach. “I guess these abs will have to do.”
My pelvis tips forward, almost unconsciously, because I want her to start using her fingers again.
“I‟m not always grouchy.”
Probably doesn‟t help my argument that my tone is closer to a snarl than necessary. Her hand barely moves, heating the spot where she‟s letting her palm rest.
She laughs softly. “Of course not. Sometimes you‟re a little ray of sunshine, I bet.”
About Book Two - Second Chance Season
Return to Liora Blake’s Grand Valley series with Second Chance Season, in which an avowed country boy meets an ambitious city girl who reminds him why dreaming big and taking a chance is worth the risk.
Garrett Strickland is unapologetically country, fiercely loyal, and all about living in the present and not dwelling in the past—even if he was once on his way to a lofty agricultural sciences degree that would guarantee the brightest of futures, only to end up back home when his old man died, leaving behind a debt-ridden family farm that was impossible to keep afloat. After that, it was easy to see why dreaming big wasn’t worth the heartache of losing everything. And until he crosses paths with a city girl who’s hell-bent on kick-starting her own future, he’s sure that good enough is just that.
Cara Cavanaugh is ready for more from life, even if that means changing everything; including dumping her longtime boyfriend, turning down a lucrative job at a major newspaper, and leaving behind the upscale suburbs of Chicago where she grew up. Now, she just has to pray that temporarily relocating to the middle of nowhere in Colorado will be the first step in building a career as a freelance writer—all she has to do is prove she’s got what it takes to make a name for herself. Unfortunately, her tony country day school is as close to country as she’s ever been. But when a goodhearted guy who looks like he just stumbled out of a country music video offers to help, she ends up falling hard…and discovering that the perfect story, as it turns out, is a love story. And it’s theirs.
Second Chance Season, book two in the Grand Valley series, is a charming, feel-good romance, perfect for fans of Jennifer Probst and Kristan Higgins.
Our drive takes us to a state park about thirty miles outside town, where there‟s a small pond surrounded by waist-high scrub oak and not much else. The pond is well-known by locals, less so by tourists, and this time of year it‟s typically deserted in the evening. I ease down an access road on the west side, then back my truck down to the pond‟s edge.
The sun is starting to set, so we‟ll only have about an hour to enjoy the view. It‟s definitely not what most would think of as picnic weather, but we‟re both layered up enough to stave off the nip in the air, and the sunset will be worth it. We both hop up on the dropped tailgate and I set the cooler between us. Cara pulls out the sandwiches and small baggies of chips, hands one of each of my way. Cara pulls back the butcher paper on her sandwich.
“I‟ve never been fishing.” “Seriously? Not even as a little kid?” She takes a bite and shakes her head, staring straight ahead and lazily kicking her legs
back and forth beneath the tailgate. I take a quick look back toward the cab of my truck, where a fishing pole sits in my gun rack. A small tackle box is in the truck with a few salmon eggs and a couple of spare lures. More than enough stuff to keep her occupied until the sun sets, even if she snags the line on every cast.
“If you want to wet a line, we can.”
Cara cocks one eyebrow, high enough to clear the top of her glasses. “Is that a euphemism? For oral sex?”
One side of my mouth tips up. “No, dirty girl. I meant that I have gear in the truck and a pond lies five feet away. You probably won‟t catch anything, but that doesn‟t mean you can‟t call it fishing.”
“Gee, thank you for your tremendous confidence in me.”
“Not a comment on you, a comment based on the conditions. They haven‟t run water in here or stocked it, plus it‟s too cold out. Just don‟t want you getting your hopes up about catching anything.”
Cara takes another bite of her sandwich then wraps the remainder back up in the butcher paper, puts it aside, and shimmies around like she‟s already preparing herself to cast.
“I don‟t care. Show me anyway.” I set my sandwich down and take a look at the sky. Better work quick. Grabbing the rod, I hand it to her and start to rummage through my tackle box for the jar of salmon eggs. Cara starts whipping the rod through the air so forcefully it makes a sharp slicing sound with each of her pretend casts. I bite down on my tongue and let her go for it—until one particularly overzealous “cast” means I‟m nearly beaned on the head. Even though the hook is safely clipped to the keeper, I might lose an eye if I don‟t reel her in a little.
“Yo, dial it down there, Bill Dance. Keep that thing under control or you‟re going to be calling me Popeye.”
Cara stops the rod in midair and looks over her shoulder. “Sorry. I like the way it makes that zingy, whisking noise. Who‟s Bill Dance?”
That zingy-whisking noise. Fucking adorable. Every time she says things like that, I have to remind myself how soon this will be over by counting the weeks we have left until she leaves, because if I don‟t, then doing whatever it takes to keep her forever sounds like a good plan. I procure the salmon egg jar and unscrew the lid to poke two fingers in.
“Pro bass fisherman.” “People fish professionally?” Sidling up next to her, I take the rod from her. Releasing the hook from the keeper, I slipon a few salmon eggs, and Cara‟s attention is on my hands, except for the occasional dart of her eyes to watch my face. I can feel her gaze like always, and if I could bottle the way my body hums under that sweet inspection, I would.
“Yes, people fish professionally. Now come stand over here.”
Cara slips under my arm to stand in front of me, where we hold the rod together so I can guide her through the basics. After only a few instructions, it seems like she has the feel down, so I step aside and let her loose. And, because this is Cara—because I think she was quite possibly born in the wrong place on earth—she proceeds to drop a long-arced, beautiful cast that lands with a gentle splash into the water.
I leave her standing in the soft sand near the water‟s edge and grab out two foldable camp chairs from inside the bed-mounted toolbox, along with a small bottle of whiskey that‟s stowed deep underneath the rear seats. Usually I only pull it out when it‟s time to celebrate punching an elk tag, but tonight seems like worthy of an exception.
Cara lets out a snort when she sees what I‟ve gathered.
“Honestly, someday, I swear you‟re going to drag a movie projector and concession stand out of the back of that thing. Or maybe a bistro table and a string quartet.”
“Come summer, maybe I will.”
Not that Cara will be here to see it if I do. I shake off that thought and work on setting up the chairs at the water‟s edge instead. I take a seat to watch her and swallow a small sip of the whiskey, then hand it her way. Cara takes a drink and returns it. We‟re quiet for a bit, nothing but the hum of nature around us.
“I‟m wearing my glasses tonight.”
I grin, more to myself than anything. “I‟m aware.” “Do you know why?” “Because you know I think it‟s hot? You enjoy watching me watching you, when you
wear them?” Cara laughs but shakes her head at the same time. “It‟s because I‟m feeling inquisitive.
Do you know what about?” The whiskey bottle is pressed to my bottom lip and there‟s a sting there from the liquor,
but it‟s no match for the sting in my gut when I note the determination in Cara‟s voice. Now her weird blank-faced act from earlier makes sense—the woman was giving me her poker face, all so she could get me out here for a goddam interview or something. I take another drink. Bigger this time.
“You,” she says, confirming everything I just figured out.
It takes a second for the burn of that shot of whiskey to clear. When it does, I lower my voice. “Don’t, Cara.”
About the Author
Liora Blake is a contemporary romance author living in Colorado.
When she isn’t writing, she’s likely baking cookies she shouldn’t eat, inventing elaborate excuses to avoid going for a run, or asking the nice barista to sell her another quad-shot Americano.